Rise in probate disputes highlight importance of keeping an up-to-date will

20th April 2017

Rise in probate disputes highlight importance of keeping an up-to-date will

It can be expensive, stressful and has the potential to destroy familial relationships – yet more and more people are choosing to go to court to challenge a will.

There were a record number of will-related disputes in 2015. The reasons obviously varied, but rising house prices raise the value of an estate, which may make it worth the challenge and a growing number of dementia sufferers may also explain a rise in challenges on the grounds of lack of mental capacity.

Government figures reveal that the number of challenges rose from 11,735 in 2014 to 14,167 the following year. Many cases were settled outside of the courtroom, and many will have settled without the issue of proceedings, but the number eventually heard by the High Court jumped from 98 in 2012 to 164 in 2015.

Changing social circumstances are increasingly playing a role. Where provision may not have been made for a partner for example. Many people fail to understand the impact of a marriage on a previously made will.

There are other factors at play, too; parents and their children may have become estranged, or fallen out. Sometimes, families fail to discuss their plans ahead of time, leading to shock and anger if the contents of the will are unexpected.

How can you challenge a will?

Claimants can cite a number of reasons why a document doesn’t fulfil the technical requirements of a will.

It could be argued that the writer was not in a fit state of mind or was coerced by another beneficiary, for instance. It could be claimed the will was forged by another party or that there weren’t enough witnesses present.

It is also possible to dispute the terms of a will under the Inheritance Act. Spouses and civil partners, cohabitants, children and dependents can pursue this route if they were not properly provided for in the will.

However, the Inheritance Act limits the extent of the provision to that of maintenance, unless a spouse. In one recent case, Heather Ilott contested her mother Melita Jakson’s decision to leave her half-million pound estate to charity and the Supreme Court agreed with the decision of the trial judge to award Mrs Ilott, who was reliant on benefits, just £50,000.

How can Gotelee help?

To ensure the people you care most about aren’t forced to deal with unnecessary difficulties after your death, keeping an up-to-date will is important. Without one, your final wishes may go unheard and your loved ones will face the added pressure at an already emotionally fraught time. A will is especially important if you own property or other valuable assets, and even more so if you have children.

We can advise you if you believe there are grounds to challenge a will and guide you through the process. Partner Rachel Cronin and solicitor Kay Baker are both members of the Association of Contentious Trusts and Probate Solicitors (ACTAPS), specialising in contesting wills and our senior partner, Peter Crix has many years of experience in this area. Please look at the relevant pages of our website which explain the grounds to challenge in more detail.

We may not like talking about death but it’s the ultimate eventuality and preparing for the future by making a will is an essential part of life planning.

Our specialist team of lawyers can meet you at one of our offices, Ipswich, Hadleigh, Felixstowe, Woodbridge or Melton and can guide you through the process of making a Will, to advise you of the best way to ensure your wishes are carried out. You may never be able to prevent a claim from being made against your estate but you can take steps with our advice to reduce the prospect of a successful claim and the Supreme Court have made it clear that the will writer’s wishes are to be taken into account in any challenge under the Inheritance Act.

Gotelee can also advise on the general procedures of administering an estate, obtaining the Grant from the Probate Registry and distributing the estate in accordance with the Will or the intestacy rules if there is no Will.

To find out more about updating your will, contact Nicola Weldon at 01394 388605 or nicola.weldon@gotelee.co.uk. If you want more information on disputes over a will, contact Rachel Cronin at 01394 283841 or email rachel.cronin@gotelee.co.uk or Kay Baker at 01473 822102 or email kay.baker@gotelee.co.uk.

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